Creating Flexible Yet Significant Parent Volunteer Opportunities

Here’s the catch 22 of parent volunteers: you want them in your classroom, so you provide meaningful opportunities. They want to volunteer, but with other children, sicknesses, and other commitments, they don’t necessarily show up as planned. So teachers make their volunteer opportunities a bit less consequential — or even give up on providing opportunities altogether — so that no-shows won’t cause too much trouble.  And then when parents do come, they feel disappointed at the lackluster opportunity.

If this sounds familiar, you’ve come to the right place.

Here are some suggestions:

1) First, stick with meaningful opportunities. Keep those one-on-one reading slots, small group math work, and science stations. Focus instead on finding a system featuring built-in reminders for parents — with everything else going on, most teachers really don’t have time to send reminders, let alone coordinate cancellations! Keep reading to find an option that might work for you!

2) Rely on room parents. If you have a room parent, leave it up to him or her to coordinate opportunities with volunteers. This might include sending text reminders to parents who have signed up or helping to arrange subs.

3) Leverage Google appointments. Google appointments only work with school or business accounts, and they are wonderfully simple to use! You can add a single slot, or multiple slots with the duration you’ve set. You can also add a description so parents know exactly what they are signing up for! Then, simply give parents the link to your school’s “calendar appointment page” (which will be built in with your school account), and let them sign up. There are even instructions for cancellation. Full details here.

Bonus: use a URL shortener to get a short-link for your calendar appointment page and print it out on a handout to go home to reach parents that don’t check email. Do this throughout the year to remind them of opportunities you’ve added!

4) Use the Remind app. Send texts to all your students’ parents to let them know about volunteer opportunities, whatever your platform.

5) Pick a volunteer sign-up platform. I’ve seen SignUp.com and VolunteerSignUp.org. I’m especially impressed with the simplicity of VolunteerSignUp.org — it is very quick to add opportunities, and it automatically generates an email and a shortened URL to share with parents on social media or on flyers.

6) Work with your working parents. A post in Edutopia gave some great ideas here, including:

  • Scheduling reading circles and volunteer shifts at the start of the day so that parents can help before work
  • Using telecommunication platforms like Skype or Google Hangouts so that parents can read to the class or help with pre-scheduled assignments without being physically present in the classroom
  • Inviting parents to update the class website and social media
  • Preparing learning center materials from home
  • Helping in the school garden on the weekends

7) Solicit for special skills. Perhaps you have a graphics-savvy parent that might be willing to help with logos and posters. Maybe some even have connections with community members that might enhance your students’ unit of study.

8) Focus on cultivating genuine relationships with families. This goes beyond just sending an email when we need volunteers or when a child is struggling with behavior. As eloquently summarized by Larry Ferlazzo on ASCD:

“A school striving for family involvement often leads with its mouth—identifying projects, needs, and goals and then telling parents how they can contribute. A school striving for parent engagement, on the other hand, tends to lead with its ears—listening to what parents think, dream, and worry about. The goal of family engagement is not to serve clients but to gain partners.”

The above article describes possibilities like home visits and doing more listening than talking. I also wrote a few months ago about 10 ways we can partner with parents.

Above all else, we need to remember that we exist to support families, not the other way around. Volunteer work and all other aspects of the home-school relationship will be enhanced when we bear this in mind.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

I Was Right To Fear Lack of Routine #TeacherMom

When I became a stay-at-home mom 4 years ago, it was the first time I didn’t have bells telling me where to be for the first time since I was 5. And I was terrified.

How was I supposed to structure my time wisely without anyone checking off my attendance?

How was I supposed to feel productive without someone to report my work to?

How was I supposed to find routines that worked my (then) 2 very small students as well as myself?

I can now say with confidence that I was right to have all these fears. They are exactly what makes being an at-home parent so difficult. They are some of the things I miss about being in the classroom even now.

But having navigated them for the last 4 years, I can say that I am grateful to have experienced them. They give me more insight on why it’s so important to honor student agency and teach them to be masters of their own time and learning before they leave the structure of the bells.

They have also given me a lens to how messy real life is — and to accept and even celebrate it. Reality is…

….some days, we feel like we’re on our A-game, and other days, we just don’t.

…some days, we feel inspired and energized, and other days, we have trouble even remembering that we were once capable of energy.

…some days, the very small students in our lives are agreeable and engaged, and other days, they are cranky and irrational (this one tends to change by the hour or even minute at times).

All of this is not only ok, it’s what makes life rich.

I continue to take my current role as an at-home parent one day at a time. I still look forward to classroom teaching again in a few years. But I now know that each day of this messy, bell-less life is a blessing for me now, and will be for years to come.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto